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The Law Q&A | PACT Act Expands Health Coverage for Veterans | Columns

As we celebrate America’s veterans in another Veterans Day holiday, let’s discuss new federal law that provides greater VA health coverage.

The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT) is law that expands VA health care and disability benefits for veterans exposed to fire pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances.

To get a VA disability rating, vets must generally show that their disability is caused by military service.

However, some conditions are assumed to have been employment-related (“presumed conditions”).

Presumptive conditions are established by legislation or regulation. The PACT Act adds to the list of health conditions “suspected” to be caused by exposure to these substances while employed.

If there is a suspected condition, veterinarians do not have to prove that their service caused the condition. They only need to meet the service requirements of time and place.

For Vietnam vets, for example, two new Agent Orange suspected conditions were added among many others: high blood pressure and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS). Several cancers and type 2 diabetes have also been added.

Five new duty stations were added during certain periods of the Vietnam War: Thailand, Laos, Johnston Atoll, Guam, Samoa, and certain provinces in Cambodia.

The PACT Act extends benefits to Gulf War-era and post-9/11 veterans.

More than 20 fire pits and other toxic exposures are now suspected conditions. Among them are 12 additional types of cancer and 12 additional respiratory disease conditions. Places for duty on or after August 2, 1990 are eight additional Middle Eastern or East African countries, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Somalia.

After September 11, 2001, eight Middle Eastern countries or their airspaces are added, including Egypt, Yemen, and Afghanistan.

If a vet has been denied disability in the past for conditions now covered by the PACT Act, the VA will reconsider upon resubmission of a claim.

A vet can now get free VA health care for any service-related condition up to 10 years from the date of the most recent discharge or separation if at least one of the following is true for active duty service: 1) You have in ‘ a theater of combat operations during a period of war after the Persian Gulf War, or 2) you served in combat against an enemy force during a period of hostilities after November 11, 1998. In addition to one of the aforementioned, you also had to was discharged or released on or after 1 October 2013

Vets can also enroll in coverage for conditions arising from this period of service and receive any necessary care, but may owe co-payments for certain care.

If discharged before October 1, 2013, there is a special entry from October 1, 2022 to September 30, 2023, when you have met the following: 1) You have either served in a theater of combat operations during a period of war after the Persian Gulf War, or you served in combat against enemy forces during a period of hostilities after November 11, 1998, and 2) you were discharged or released between Sept. 11 2001 and October 1, 2013, and you were not previously enrolled in VA health care.

The Pact Act is the country’s more substantial “thank you for your service” than simply speaking the words or watching flights at football matches.

Brett Kepley is an attorney at Land of Lincoln Legal Aid Inc. Send questions to The Law Q&A, 302 N. First St., Champaign, IL 61820.

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